News & Current Affairs

April 10, 2010

Polish President Lech Kaczynski dies in plane crash

Polish President Lech Kaczynski dies in plane crash

President Lech Kaczynski and scores of other senior Polish figures have been killed in a plane crash in Russia.

Polish and Russian officials said no-one survived after the plane apparently hit trees as it approached Smolensk airport in thick fog.

Russian media reports said the pilots ignored advice from air traffic control to divert to another airport.

Poland’s army chief, central bank governor, MPs and leading historians were among more than 80 passengers.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the crash was the most tragic event of the country’s post-World War II history.

The Polish delegation was flying in from Warsaw to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre of thousands of Poles by Soviet forces during WWII.

Lech Kaczynski, file image

Obituary: Lech Kaczynski

The BBC’s Adam Easton, in Warsaw, says the crash is a catastrophe for the Polish people.

He says Prime Minister Tusk was reportedly in tears when he was told.

After an emergency meeting of ministers, Mr Tusk, who runs the day-to-day business of government, said a week of national mourning had been declared with two minutes of silence on Sunday at midday.

Mr Tusk added: “The Polish state must function and will function”.

Flowers and candles laid outside presidential palace in Warsaw -  10 April 2010

Thousands have gathered outside the presidential palace in Warsaw

A government spokesman said that according to the constitution there would be an early presidential election, and the speaker of the lower house of parliament, Bronislaw Komorowski, would be acting president.

In Warsaw, people gathered outside the presidential palace to lay flowers and light candles.

“I’m all broken up… it cannot be expressed in words,” Ewa Robaczewska told Reuters news agency.

Pilot error?

The Russian emergencies ministry told Itar-Tass news agency the plane crashed at 1056 Moscow time (0656 GMT) as it was coming in to land.

Smolensk regional governor Sergei Antufiev told Russian TV that no-one had survived.

Thousands of people have gathered outside the presidential palace to pay their respects.

There has been a spontaneous outpouring of grief, no matter what people thought of Lech Kaczynski. He was a divisive figure in Polish society, especially among younger Poles.

People are just stunned, visibly moved and in tears, whether they agreed with the president’s political views or not.

The largest church bell in Poland, at Krakow Cathedral, has been rung.

It never tolls generally, only for very, very solemn occasions. The last time it did so was for the death of the Polish pope, John Paul II, five years ago.

“According to preliminary reports, it got caught up in the tops of trees, fell to the ground and broke up into pieces,” he said. “There are no survivors in that crash.”

Polish TV worker Slawomir Wisniewski said he had seen the crash from his hotel near the airport.

“I saw through the fog, the aeroplane flying very low with the left wing pointing to the ground,” he said.

“I heard something being broken and then that thudding sound. Two flashes of fire next to each other.”

Russian media carried claims that the plane’s crew were at fault for the crash.

“Flight controllers… suggested that the plane be forwarded to Minsk but as far as we know the crew took an independent decision to land the plane in Smolensk,” Smolensk regional government spokesman Andrei Yevseyenkov told Russian TV.

Russian officials said 97 people were killed in the crash, including eight crew.

Polish officials said that 89 people had been scheduled to fly in the delegation to the Katyn commemoration, but one person missed the flight.

Mr Putin visited the crash site, after saying he would personally oversee the investigation into the crash.

“Everything must be done to establish the reasons for this tragedy in the shortest possible time,” he said.

He was to meet his Polish counterpart, Mr Tusk, in Smolensk.

Russian officials said all the bodies had been recovered from the scene and were being taken to Moscow for identification.

Russia’s Emergency Minister Sergei Shoigu said both of the plane’s flight information recorders had been found and were being examined.

Controversial figure

The president was flying in a Tupolev 154, a Soviet-designed plane that was more than 20 years old.

SENIOR FIGURES KILLED
National leader:
President Lech Kaczynski and wife Maria
Other politicians:
Wladyslaw Stasiak chief of the president’s chancellery; Aleksander Szczyglo chief of the National Security Office; Slawomir Skrzypek National Bank of Poland chairman;
Jerzy Szmajdzinski deputy speaker of the lower house; Andrzej Kremer Foreign Ministry’s undersecretary of state; Stanislaw Komorowski deputy minister of national defence; Przemyslaw Gosiewski Law and Justice party deputy chair;
Military chief:
Franciszek Gagor chief of the General Staff
Cultural figures:
Andrzej Przewoznik head of Poland’s Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites; Tomasz Merta chief historical conservator

Source: TVP1, Warsaw

Our correspondent says there had been calls for Polish leaders to upgrade their planes.

Mr Kaczynski himself had suffered scares while using the plane in late 2008, when problems with the aircraft’s steering mechanism delayed his departure from Mongolia.

“Any flight brings with it a certain risk, but a very serious risk attaches to the responsibilities of a president, because it is necessary to fly constantly,” he was quoted as saying at the time.

But the head of Russia’s Aviakor aviation maintenance company told Russian TV the plane was airworthy, after his plant fully overhauled it in December.

As well as the president and his wife, Maria, a number of senior officials were on the passenger list.

They included the army chief of staff Gen Franciszek Gagor, central bank governor Slawomir Skrzypek and deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer.

World leaders including Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered their condolences to Poland.

Mr Kaczynski’s twin brother, Jaroslaw, a former prime minister and now head of the main opposition party, was said to be “devastated”, an aide told AFP news agency.

Lech Kaczynski, who had fewer powers than the prime minister but had a significant say in foreign policy, was a controversial figure in Polish politics.

He had advocated a right-wing Catholic agenda, opposed rapid free-market reforms and favoured retaining social welfare programmes.

Map of crashed flight
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July 20, 2009

July 11, 2009

British plane in US smoke scare

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 4:34 pm

British plane in US smoke scare

BA288 on tarmac at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, 10 July 2009

Passengers used slides to leave the aircraft

More than 300 passengers and crew aboard a British Airways jet at a US airport were evacuated down emergency slides after smoke filled the cabin.

The Boeing 747 had pulled away from the departure gate at Phoenix, Arizona, en route to London Heathrow when passengers began complaining of smoke.

There were shouts of “fire” and some people panicked but none were seriously injured, eyewitnesses told the BBC.

Fire crews found light smoke but no fire and suspect an electrical problem.

I never realised how fast you can go down those emergency slides – a lot of people, including myself, have little friction burns on their elbows
Charles Woolf
passenger speaking to the news

The incident occurred at about 2000 local time (0300 GMT) on Friday, said a Phoenix fire official, Capt Shelly Jamison.

About 15 people received minor scrapes and bruises, and one person was taken to hospital with shoulder pain.

Confirming the safe exit of all 298 passengers and 18 crew aboard Flight BA288, British Airways said the aircraft had been evacuated “following the usual procedures”.

‘Professionalism’

Charles Woolf, 16, was sitting at the rear of the plane, waiting to return home to Fareham in the UK after a holiday.

Everything appeared normal as the plane taxied out, he told News, but after it had been waiting about 10 minutes for take-off, “a strange but harsh smell filled the cabin – it made my nose tingle and burned the back of my throat”.

“Some people started to cough, and a few started to worry and panic,” he said.

“After about five minutes, more people started to cough, someone towards the front of the aircraft shouted ‘fire’, the doors of the aircraft opened and the slides were deployed.

“People were pushing a bit to try and get to the exit, but I’d say within 20 seconds of the doors opening I was out of the plane.

“I never realised how fast you can go down those emergency slides – a lot of people, including myself, have little friction burns on their elbows.”

The 16-year-old praised the cabin crew’s professionalism.

June 20, 2009

Schwarzenegger in LA plane drama

Schwarzenegger in LA plane drama

Arnold Schwarzenegger, file image

The governor seemed unfazed by the landing

A plane carrying California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has made an emergency landing in Los Angeles because of smoke in the cockpit.

No-one was hurt after a “quick, steep, but safe” landing, his office said.

The former film star was so calm about the incident that he immediately logged on to social networking website Twitter to share his experience.

“A little adventure just now when my plane made an emergency landing. All’s ok, though,” his message said.

The pilot diverted the jet to the Van Nuys airport 10 minutes before it was due to land at Santa Monica, spokesman Aaron McLear said in a statement.

Fire crews met the jet on the runway.

“Upon landing the governor exited the jet and travelled to his house,” Mr McLear said.

He added that the crew had done an “outstanding job” and that “everyone aboard landed safely and unharmed”.

December 16, 2008

Israel tourism bus crash kills 24

Israel tourism bus crash kills 24

A bus carrying Russian visitors has plunged into a ravine in southern Israel, killing at least 24 people, rescue workers say.

More than 50 passengers were on the bus when it came off a desert road and rolled down a steep slope near the Red Sea resort of Eilat.

Several of those hurt were said to be in a serious condition.

The group had only just arrived and were being transported to Eilat from Ovda airport in the Negev desert.

The group had come from the Russian city of St Petersburg. Local media reports said they were travel agents from the city on a trip to survey the Red Sea resort.

Dozens of rescue workers, ambulances and several air force helicopters rushed to the site to evacuate the injured.

Map

Television footage showed the blue bus on its side at the bottom of the ravine.

Several of the passengers were thrown from the bus as it rolled down the slope, an eyewitness said. Luggage and wreckage lay strewn across the slope.

Some of the casualties were taken to hospital in Eilat, where medical personnel attending a conference were drafted in to help out. Others were flown to the town of Beersheba, a police spokesman said.

Six injured people who were trapped in the bus were rescued, an Israeli military officer said.

“They were saved because they were trapped in their seats,” the Associated Press news agency quoted the unidentified officer as saying.

The Russian embassy in Tel Aviv said it had sent a representative to the scene of the accident.

‘Overtook’

It is being seen as a tragic accident rather than any kind of attack.

The road where the accident happened links Eilat, a popular holiday destination, with Ovda airport, some 50km (30 miles) away.

The bus lies at the bottom of the ravine

The bus broke through a rail and rolled down a ravine, witnesses said.

It crosses mountainous terrain and involves a series of hair-pin bends.

The driver of another bus said that the vehicle overtook him in a no-passing zone and then crashed through a guard rail, the Associated Press news agency reported.

A taxi driver who saw the accident gave a similar account to Israeli public radio.

“The driver of the bus tried to overtake another bus in a hair-pin curve and lost control of his vehicle,” he said.

Have you been affected by the crash? You can send us your comments

December 1, 2008

Empty aircraft fly from Bangkok

Empty aircraft fly from Bangkok

Stranded passengers at Suvarnabhumi airport, Bangkok

Thousands of passengers have been stranded by the protests

About 40 empty planes have flown out of Bangkok’s international airport after authorities reached a deal with protesters camped there for seven days.

Thousands of travellers have been stranded since anti-government groups took over two airports last week.

The deal allows a total 88 planes to be flown out to other Thai airports, where it is hoped they can evacuate some of the blockaded tourists.

The crisis has economically damaged the country since it intensified last week.

Thailand’s deputy premier for economic affairs is reported to be meeting senior figures in commerce, industry and tourism today to discuss the damage being done.

As the backlog of stranded foreigners grows with each day, foreign embassies are beside themselves with frustration.

Foreign airlines

A spokeswoman for Airports of Thailand said: “Thirty-seven aircraft have left Suvarnabhumi (international airport) since the first aircraft of Siam GA (a regional airline) took off on Sunday evening.

“International airlines will have to contact us to take those stranded aircraft out of Suvarnabhumi.”

Twelve planes belonging to foreign airlines are stranded at Suvarnabhumi, as well as 29 from Thai Airways, 16 of Thai Airasia, 15 from Bangkok Airways, and 22 aircraft from other airlines.

With thousands of British citizens among the estimated 100,000 travellers, a spokesman for the UK’s Foreign Office said: “Bangkok’s two main airports remain closed but airlines have been able to arrange flights and transfers to and from alternative airports.

An anti-government protester outside Bangkok airport

“Some British nationals have been able to fly out but not in the necessary numbers.

“We have continued our consultations with airlines and Thai authorities…and action is being stepped up to enable people to travel in greater numbers, for example via Chiang Mai.”

Chiang Mai, in the north, is 700km (435 milies) by road from Bangkok, while the other option – Phuket, a resort in the south – is 850km (530 miles).

France has said it will send a “special plane” to fly its citizens out of Thailand on Monday, with “those in the most pressing situations…given priority,” AFP news agency reported.

Air France-KLM has already said it would fly travellers out of Phuket.

A few airlines have been using an airport at the U-Tapao naval base, about 140km (90 miles) south-east of Bangkok.

On Sunday more than 450 Muslim pilgrims stranded at the international airport were taken by bus to the base where they were to board a plane for the annual Hajj in Saudi Arabia.

Spain and Australia have been arranging special flights to evacuate their citizens.

Thailand’s tourist industry is losing an estimated $85m (£55.4m) per day, and the government warns that the number of foreign tourists arriving next year may halve, threatening one million jobs.

The protesters from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) are a loose alliance of royalists, businessmen and the urban middle class.

They opposition want the government to resign, accusing it of being corrupt, hostile to the monarchy and in league with exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.


Are you stranded in Thailand or do you have family affected by the protests? What are your or their experiences? Send us your comments

November 25, 2008

Bangkok protesters fire on rivals

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 3:47 pm

Bangkok protesters fire on rivals

Thai anti-government protesters have opened fire on government supporters during clashes in Bangkok which left at least 11 people injured, officials say.

The incident came after the People’s Alliance for Democracy blocked the road to the city’s old airport in a renewed attempt to unseat the government.

The PAD said on Sunday it had begun a “final battle” to achieve the goal.

Meanwhile, PAD supporters have stormed Bangkok’s main international airport, leading it to suspend outgoing flights.

Witnesses said hundreds of yellow-shirted members of the group managed to break through police lines and enter the main terminal of Suvarnabhumi airport, to the bewilderment of passengers.

Anyone who wants to overthrow or resist the government is attempting a rebellion
Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat

The airport’s manager, Serirat Prasutanon, said the authorities had tried to negotiate with the protesters, “but to no avail”.

“For the safety of passengers, we have to stop flights out of the airport temporarily until the situation returns to normal,” he told the Associated Press.

Exactly what the protesters hope to do there is not clear, the BBC’s Jonathan Head in Bangkok says, but they may be hoping to prevent Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat from returning from the Apec summit in Peru on Wednesday.

Mr Somchai told reporters in Lima: “Anyone who wants to overthrow or resist the government is attempting a rebellion.”

‘Final battle’

Earlier, Thai TPBS television broadcast pictures of the violence on the main road to the capital’s old airport. The footage showed shots being fired from a truck into crowds after rocks were thrown.

Protesters block the road to Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport (25 November 2008)

Thousands of people are taking part in anti-government protests

At least two handguns could be seen and people standing with the gunmen raised up a picture of the revered Thai king, whom the PAD claim to be supporting.

Protesters could be seen running across the empty multi-lane road and setting fire to a motorbike.

A man was also seized by pro-government supporters and what appeared to be a large knife was held to his throat.

TPBS said its cameraman had been threatened at the scene and that PAD personnel attempted to seize his tape.

On Monday, PAD protesters converged on Bangkok’s old Don Muang international airport, from where the cabinet has been operating since its offices were occupied three months ago.

Organisers say the protest is a “final battle” to bring down the government.

Our correspondent says the government appears to have followed a strategy of allowing PAD to attack government buildings while avoiding clashes, in the hope that it will wear the protesters down.

The government has so far resisted calling in the army. Analysts says it is a thinly disguised aim of the PAD to provoke such a move.

The PAD are determined to create drama but many ordinary Thais are sick of the unrest and the protesters appear to be losing steam, says our correspondent.

September 19, 2008

Danish jet survives landing scare

Danish jet survives landing scare

Map

A Boeing 737 with 145 people on board has landed safely at Copenhagen airport despite suffering problems with its landing gear, Danish media have said.

The plane, belonging to the airline, Jettime, had been flying from Billund to Lanzarote when it developed a fault in its front landing gear, they added.

After dumping fuel, the plane was ordered to land at Copenhagen airport.

Danish TV showed the jet touching down on the runway and taxiing to a gate, followed by several rescue vehicles.

September 12, 2008

Sarah Palin: 10 things we’ve learnt

Sarah Palin: 10 things we’ve learnt

It has been a week since Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was catapulted from relative obscurity to center stage as US Republican John McCain’s choice for running mate. Here are 10 things we now know about her.

Images of Sarah Palin, past and present

1. Her five children are named Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and, last but not least, Trig Paxson Van Palin. According to the Washington Post newspaper, Track was named after the course of the sockeye salmon the family fishes off the town of Dillingham, while her eldest daughter’s name comes from Bristol Bay, an area known for its salmon fisheries. The name Willow relates to the state bird, the willow ptarmigan, and a nearby town, the paper says, while daughter Piper shares her name with the family’s small plane. Trig is the Norse word for “brave victory”, the Post adds.

2. Her rimless glasses are now a style phenomenon. The titanium Kawasaki 704 frames – designed in Japan, where they sell for $300 – are apparently flying off the shelves. Her upswept hair-do is also reportedly spawning imitators. LA Times fashion writer Booth Moore writes: “The untidiness of her updo has a can-do spirit that says, ‘I have more important things to do than worry about my hair, so I just twirled it into this clip so I could get to the real business of governing and shooting caribou and having babies and taking them to hockey practice.'”

3. John McCain picked someone who not only appeals to “Wal-Mart Moms” but is one herself, shopping for the family in a local branch. Not only that, writes New York Times columnist William Kristol, but “he picked someone who, in 1999 as Wasilla mayor, presided over a wedding of two Wal-Mart associates at the local Wal-Mart”.

4. Mrs Palin enjoys moose-hunting and salmon-fishing – and has said her favorite dish is moose stew. Former Republican senator and one-time presidential hopeful Fred Thompson described her as “the only nominee in the history of either party who knows how to properly field-dress a moose”. Cindy McCain, in her speech to the party’s national convention, said her husband John had “picked a reform-minded, hockey-mommin’, basketball-shooting, moose-hunting, salmon-fishing, pistol-packing mother-of-five for vice-president”.

5. A month before her fifth child, Trig, was due, Mrs Palin’s waters broke while she was in Texas to address a conference. She delivered her speech nonetheless and embarked on the long flight back to Alaska – changing planes in Seattle – before traveling an hour by road to hospital to give birth. She says she was not in “active labor” and her doctor said it was fine. Alaska Airlines allows women to travel in the late stages of pregnancy. Husband Todd – a commercial fisherman – is quoted by the s Anchorage Daily Newas saying: “You can’t have a fish picker from Texas.” Three days later, Mrs Palin was back at work.

6. As governor of Alaska, Mrs Palin ditched plans for a “bridge to nowhere” – a federally-funded project to link a handful of Alaskans to an airport at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. In her speech to the Republican National Convention, she said she had told the US Congress “thanks, but no thanks”. But US media say she appeared to support the project while running for governor in 2006, though she said the proposed design was too “grandiose”. And when she announced the cancellation of the bridge a year ago – after it gained notoriety as an example of wasteful spending – she hardly seemed to be turning down federal funds out of thrift. She explained the decision by saying, “It’s clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island.” The federal funding was diverted to other projects in Alaska.

Sarah Palin with one of her daughters on a fishing trip (handout)

Mrs Palin enjoys hunting, shooting and fishing for salmon

7. In a line that has gone down well at the Republican National Convention and on the campaign trail, she boasts of putting the previous governor’s “luxury jet” on eBay as a measure to cut wasteful spending. That is true. But what she has not always explained to her audience is that the plane failed to sell on the internet auction site and so aides had to broker a deal with a buyer.

8. She was baptised a Catholic as an infant but attended a Pentecostal church in Wasilla – her hometown since her parents moved to Alaska from Idaho when she was three months old – for many years. She now attends Wasilla Bible Church, a non-denominational, evangelical church. The Associated Press reports that the church is promoting a conference that promises to convert gays into heterosexuals through the power of prayer.

9. As hunters sometimes do, Mrs Palin has incurred the wrath of wildlife-lovers. It’s not just that she shoots moose and caribou, she has also backed legislation to encourage the aerial hunting of wolves, as a “predator control” measure. Plus, she has opposed the US government’s listing of a variety of animals as endangered, including the polar bear and the beluga whale. Unlike Mr McCain and to the horror of many environmentalists, she actively supports drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

10. She is a self-described “average hockey mom”; a biography published a few months ago was entitled Sarah: How a Hockey Mom Turned Alaska’s Political Establishment on Its Ear. The hockey mom branding could prove useful come November in the swing states of Michigan and Minnesota, where ice hockey is a big game. Her best-known joke so far? “What’s the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick.”

September 8, 2008

Three guilty of bomb conspiracy

Three guilty of bomb conspiracy

Tanvir Hussain, Abdulla Ahmed Ali and Assad Sarwar

Tanvir Hussain, Abdulla Ahmed Ali and Assad Sarwar were found guilty

Three men have been found guilty of a massive terrorist conspiracy to murder involving home-made bombs.

Abdulla Ahmed Ali, Assad Sarwar and Tanvir Hussain’s convictions follow a huge terrorism inquiry, which led to sweeping airport restrictions.

The three, on trial with another five men, had pleaded guilty to plotting to cause an explosion. Seven admitted plotting to cause a public nuisance.

The eighth man, Mohammad Gulzar, was cleared at Woolwich Crown Court.

The group had been accused of plotting to bring down transatlantic airliners with home-made liquid explosives, disguised as soft drinks.

But after more than 50 hours of deliberations, the jury did not find any of the defendants guilty of conspiring to target aircraft.

The jury was also unable to reach verdicts against four of the men in the six-month trial, all of whom were accused of recording martyrdom videos.

‘Inspired by al-Qaeda’

The court heard prosecutors allege that the eight men were planning to carry liquid explosives on to planes at Heathrow, knowing the devices would evade airport security checks.

Police said the plot had been inspired by al-Qaeda in Pakistan – and the August 2006 arrests caused chaos at airports throughout the country.

The court heard that the alleged plot could have caused unprecedented casualties, with a global political impact similar to the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

But in their defense, the seven men who had recorded videos denouncing Western foreign policy said they had only planned to cause a political spectacle and not to kill anyone at all.

The ringleader, Abdulla Ahmed Ali, 27, of Walthamstow, east London, created home-made liquid explosives in a flat which prosecutors said were designed to evade airport security.

He and five of the others – Ibrahim Savant, 27, of Stoke Newington, north London, and, from east London, Umar Islam, 30, of Plaistow, Hussain, 27, of Leyton, and Waheed Zaman, 24, and Arafat Waheed Khan, 27, both of Walthamstow – had recorded what the prosecution alleged were “martyrdom videos” denouncing the West and urging Muslims to fight.

Prosecutors said the bombers would then have completed and detonated the devices during their flights once all the targeted planes had taken off.

‘Political spectacle’

Sarwar was said in court to be the quartermaster of the plot, buying supplies needed to make the bombs.

Prosecutors said that Mr Gulzar, cleared by the jury, had flown into the country to oversee the plot’s final stages – something he vehemently denied during the trial.

The plot came to light after the largest ever surveillance operation involving officers from both MI5, the Metropolitan Police and other forces around the country.

Ali, Sarwar and Hussain told the jury they had wanted to create a political spectacle in protest over foreign policy. It would have included fake suicide videos and devices that would frighten rather than kill the public.

Ali, Sarwar and Hussain, along with Savant, Islam, Khan, and Zaman, also admitted conspiring to cause a public nuisance by making videos threatening bombings.

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